Miriam’s Cup: Building Sabbatical Culture – DJC Learning and Practice for the Year Ahead

I’m part of a newly formed group called the Shmita Sisters (we will definitely need T-shirts!). We’re a group of creative Jewish women leaders and teachers in Toronto, meeting monthly to explore how we might live the biblical practices of Shmita/the Sabbatical year that arrives every seven years. And this year is a Shmita year. The biblical mitzvot of Shmita include letting the land lie fallow and resting from the labours of planting and cultivating, relinquishing ownership of one’s land, forgiving debts and sharing the wild growth so everyone can take what they need. These are radical practices, fostering environmental and economic justice, fostering strong community relationships and building an inner intelligence capable of resting, trusting and sharing generously.

The Shmita Sisters usually meet in a backyard around a fire-pit, under the stars and with our feet on the ground. Thinking and dreaming flows from these biblical practices to ways they can map onto our lives – our work, relationships, connection to earth, ritual and prayer life, art making, and more. What I have been finding particularly exciting is having a group with whom to imagine, experiment and to whom to be accountable.

At the DJC, we have begun a similar group. You are welcome to join at any time! I want to share some of the ideas that grew out of our last meeting. These ideas are the basis for a monthly series in conversation with guest speakers. Each session will focus on a particular aspect of Shmita values and practice. Upcoming sessions will include: 1) November 25th – Letting our Hearts Lie Fallow – growing the inner states of mind and heart for letting go, letting be, becoming ownerless and welcoming the wild; 2) Restorative and Regenerative Agriculture – letting the land rest, renew and reclaim wildness; 3) Habits of Consumption – exploring what we eat, use and buy; 5) Economic Justice – softening our grip on ownership, radical sharing and collective well-being; 6) Building Sabbatical Communities – forging the relationships that sustain us all. Stay tuned for dates and details for all.

Here are some of the ideas and commitments from the group:

Environmental justice:
• Lobby the government to make harmful environmental practices illegal. Individual action for intergenerational collective impact;
• Examine ways we can let the land lie fallow and rest in our current system;
• Commit to sharing, to giving away excess clothing, questioning the value system of how we dress (Covid showing us how much less we need).

Economic justice:
• Engaging politically for Universal Basic income, food programs for kids, taxing the rich, taxing inheritance and also taxing those who can pay more;
• Illumination through dialogue, listening to those who have a lived experience that “we” may not have;
• Radical sharing: committing to regularly giving & receiving meals among friends, community, neighbours;
• Challenge the market-driven paradigm;
• Letting everyone use our woods and your garden for their gathering or gardening produce needs
• Modifying practices around loans so people are not permanently trapped in cycles of poverty
• If you are certified as severely disabled, the government triples the money in our disability savings account. Have people donate to these accounts so the government triples that!
• Not Far from the Tree – an organization that picks fruit off of people’s fruit trees and gives them 1/3rd of the pick and they take 2/3rds and give the fresh fruit to those with food insecurity.
• Sharing your car and other devices with others in a sharing arrangement.

Community Building:
• Expanding our spiderwebs of relationships and connections;
• Giving and receiving that goes both ways as a regular practice;
• Community care collectives for disabled and older folks – where everyone does a small shift, but the pool of volunteers is large, so every shift is covered;
• Consciously building relationships of care and support in community, specifically outside the nuclear family;
• More community sharing to help people achieve their goals;
• Having the community (like the DJC) have a profession where each professional in our community who feels they can donates a few free hours of their time to someone in the community who needs it this month;
• Offering your home and your outdoor space for others to use/share. i.e. let others do some of your gardening and take some of the spoils.

Spiritual Practice:
• Becoming ownerless: Trusting more, giving to others now, being there for others now so that we are setting up new systems of giving (trusting that we will have enough through giving to others);
• Finding peace in stillness long enough to see new perspectives;
• Pray for the wellbeing of others; Pray for the earth – get our intentions activated and attuned;
• Develop daily and weekly Shmita rituals – lying on the earth, dancing the wild, a Shabbat ritual of letting go;
• Work with the impulses and habits to hoard, grip, control; work with the fears of not having enough.

There is so much to explore together. These ideas are just a beginning. I hope you’ll take part in these rich conversations and experiments in practice. I’m excited to see how we can shape DJC Sabbatical culture over the year and the ways we collectively effect change beyond the DJC.

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